November 9, 2019
MANILA, Philippines — The families of the 44 police commandos killed in an anti-terror operation that went awry in 2015 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao trooped to the Office of the Ombudsman yesterday to seek a reinvestigation of the carnage and to hold former president Benigno Aquino III accountable.
Assisted by the Volunteer Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), the kin of the 44 slain members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) filed with the ombudsman a seven-page motion to reopen the investigation.
VACC legal counsel Ferdinand Topacio said their group is confident that the ombudsman, under a new leadership, will find merit in their complaint of reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide against Aquino, former PNP chief Alan Purisima and former SAF director Getulio Napeñas.
Topacio said their homicide complaint will be boosted by the affidavit of former PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) chief and incumbent Baguio City mayor Benjamin Magalong, who chaired a PNP Board Inquiry (BOI) that conducted an investigation on the Jan. 25, 2015 Mamasapano incident.
Former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales dismissed the original homicide complaint families of the slain commandos filed against Aquino, Purisima and Napeñas in 2016.
Morales, in a resolution promulgated on June 13, 2017, instead approved the filing of cases of violation of Section 3 (a) Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices and usurpation of official functions under Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code against the trio. The cases were formally filed with the Sandiganbayan in November 2017.
The cases stemmed from Aquino’s alleged act of allowing then suspended PNP chief Purisima to participate in the planning and implementation of Oplan Exodus, a police operation aimed to neutralize Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman.
Marwan was killed but the operation resulted in the death of over 60 people, including 44 members of the PNP-SAF.
Early this year, Morales’ successor, Ombudsman Samuel Martires, moved for the withdrawal of the cases, saying that upon review of his office, “no sufficient ground and evidence” was found to support the graft and usurpation charges.
The Sandiganbayan Fourth Division, on Aug. 22, approved the withdrawal of the cases “without prejudice to the filing of the appropriate charge/s” against Aquino and the two former police directors.
‘Cases are a joke’
Topacio yesterday reiterated his support for Martires’ move to withdraw the Morales-initiated cases, branding them as “silly” charges.
“It’s a joke. Those two cases are a joke, to be blunt about it. We were fooled by Conchita Carpio-Morales. They were destined to fail… From the start we have already expressed our opposition to such charges and said that we will not participate (in the proceeding). Because it’s a joke that will give validity to the travesty of justice of the ombudsman,” Topacio said.
The VACC had earlier accused Morales of rushing the filing of graft and usurpation cases against Aquino in order to shield him from graver charges.
Topacio explained that each count of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide carries a penalty of imprisonment of four years. He said Aquino must be held liable for 44 counts of the offense for the death of the 44 members of SAF.
Topacio said a graft case only carries a maximum penalty of 15 years of imprisonment while penalty for usurpation of authority is convertible to just a fine.
The VACC had earlier filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court (SC) assailing the ombudsman’s June 13, 2017 resolution dismissing the multiple homicide complaint.
The SC, in a decision promulgated as a whole last Sept. 3, junked VACC’s petition. The high tribunal said it did not find any “grave abuse of discretion” on the part of the ombudsman in dismissing the complaint.
Topacio said the reopening of their homicide complaint cannot be considered a violation of the constitutional provision against double jeopardy as the accused are not yet convicted in court. Topacio pointed out that Aquino, Purisima and Napeñas were not yet even arraigned for their cases at the Sandiganbayan.
Meanwhile, Magalong, who was present during the filing of the motion for reinvestigation with the ombudsman, said his affidavit was based on the findings of his team’s investigation on the Mamasapano incident.
“Everything was lifted. Whatever were the significant findings in the Board of Inquiry report, they’re in there (the affidavit),” Magalong said.
The BOI report released by Magalong’s team in March 2015 concluded that the PNP’s chain of command was violated when Aquino directly dealt with Purisima and Napeñas instead of then PNP officer-in-charge Leonardo Espina.
Categorically asked by reporters if he personally saw any negligence on the part of the former president, Magalong answered: “Yes, of course. We (BOI) really noted some glaring errors that were committed.”
“If only the decision makers at the time – president Aquino and general Purisima – were decisive, the incident could have never happened,” Magalong added.